Toledo Public Schools (TPS) and Pittsburgh-based Brightside Academy will split some $13 million in federal Head Start funding to serve an estimated 1,600 children across Lucas County with a preschool program and a new-to-Toledo initiative called Early Head Start, which focuses on children between birth and three years of age.
The TPS share of the five-year grant will be $8.1 million. TPS partnered with the Lucas County Family Council, which will assist with Early Head Start, and WSOS, a community action agency that has run Head Start in four Northwest Ohio counties since the federal preschool program’s inception in 1965.
The TPS portion of the grant will to serve 1,126 children. Brightside Academy will receive just under $5 million to serve an additional 455 children. The aim is to better prepare TPS students and other children for kindergarten. The revised program will begin in August.
“The best intervention is prevention—by getting involved with our students at an early age,” said Dr. Romules Durant, TPS superintendent.
“We needed to stem the tide of a lack of preparedness that some students, because of their economic situation, just didn’t have the access to the preschool advantages of some of their peers in other parts of the community have,” said Dr. Cecelia Adams, TPS board president.
Dr. Durant indicated school district officials would meet with Brightside Academy representatives in mid-June to determine which entity would serve which zip codes in the county. Dr. Durant stated TPS invited Brightside to join its proposal for competitive funding, but the privately-owned education company declined.
Head Start programs won’t be located just at TPS schools or central-city facilities. WSOS will provide other school districts will have at least one site for income-eligible preschoolers, including Washington Local, Maumee, and Springfield.
The Family Council will work with infants, toddlers, and pregnant mothers. TPS will locate Head Start sites at the Summit Street YMCA, existing TPS preschools, and several elementary schools, such as McTigue. Another 200 students will attend private child-care providers that qualified by having at least three stars in the Step Up to Quality state ranking system.
The collaborative Head Start model will offer “wraparound” services, including healthy meals and medical care for Lucas County’s children, as well as education for parents so they can take steps towards self-sufficiency.
The federal Dept. of Health and Human Services (HHS) put in a competitive bidding process for Head Start in 2011, which placed former provider Economic Opportunity Planning Association (EOPA) against TPS. However, neither group’s proposal was selected.
Instead, HHS selected Denver-based Community Development Institute (CDI) to run Head Start during a second round of bidding. CDI plans to lay off most of its 280 employees by the end of July. TPS, WSOS, and Family Council officials plan to hire about 110 people over the summer.
“We’ve been trying to get the Head Start grant since 2011 and politics got in the way,” said TPS board member Lisa Sobecki.
Preschool teachers to be hired will be required to have at least a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education and assistant teachers must have at least an associate’s degree in early childhood education.
“We do that because we believe the children who qualify or Head Start are the most at-risk and, statistically, have the most to lose,” said Dr. Amy Allen, a UT professor who will head TPS preschool and special education programs. “They need and deserve the best we have to offer and that is what we intend to give them.”
The TPS-based collaborative will be part of an HHS pilot project, which expands Head Start from birth to five years. The program will serve children longer, but fewer will be accepted into the program. TPS board members lamented that 7,000 kids are eligible for Head Start programming in Lucas County, but the majority won’t be served.
“We’re going to have to pick and choose, through eligibility requirements, as to who gets to take advantage of this opportunity,” said Bob Vásquez, TPS board member. “It’s bothersome to me there are so many children not able to be afforded this opportunity.”
Dr. Durant indicated meetings already are set up in search of more community-based funding to serve more children. Some TPS board members also raised concerns over whether the district’s general fund would have to be tapped in order to provide Head Start services. The superintendent admitted that could be a possibility at a future date.
“We have a collective problem that is going to take a collective solution and a collective effort of multiple agencies to come to this solution and have a collective impact,” he said.
“We should be looking toward universal pre-K across the county,” said TPS board member Polly Taylor-Gerken.